Science in the Field: Tracking Wild Bumblebees in the Sierra Nevada - June 13, 2019 - Atlas Obscura Trips

Sequoia National Park, California

Science in the Field: Tracking Wild Bumblebees in the Sierra Nevada

Venturing into the open meadows of the Sierra Nevada, learn firsthand about the plight of the humble bumblebee. Led by expert biologists, we’ll journey deep into the wilderness of Sequoia National Park and National Forest to experience nature up close, conducting research on wild bumblebees and investigating how to help save them.

Since the first step to protecting these critical creatures is understanding them, we’re embarking on a wild pollinator expedition to help identify wild bee specimens, track populations, and explore the native wildlife of this peaceful landscape.

This trip is best for people who are...

  • Curious to learn about wild pollinators and contribute to field research.
  • Ready for 2 to 5 miles of hiking each day.
  • Excited to see nature up close, handle and track native bumblebees, and experience the beauty of the Sequoia National Park and National Forest.
  • Not recommended for people with severe bee allergies (obviously!).

From our base at a cozy mountain lodge nestled among the magnificent giant sequoias, we’ll go on nature walks through the mountains and valleys, venture out after dark in search of glowing millipedes, pay tribute to the world’s largest tree, and gaze at the stars. It won’t be all science, all the time though. This four-day excursion is the perfect retreat from the bustle of urban life, complete with the outstanding local wine, craft beer, and farm-fresh food that California has to offer.


  • Bee research: Take part in research on the wild bumblebees of the Sierra Nevada while exploring the mountain ecosystems they inhabit.
  • Hands-on in the field: Help photograph, net, and identify native bumblebees, and familiarize yourself with the flowering plants of the region.
  • Pollinator conservation: Over drinks in our lodge, learn about the plight of wild pollinators and what biologists are doing to save them.


Dr. Hollis Woodard is an Assistant Professor of Entomology at the University of California, Riverside, whose lab studies bumblebee behavior, physiology, and conservation. She and her research group have worked with bumblebees in Israel, the Sierra Nevada, and the northern slope of Alaska, and with solitary bees in the deserts of the Southwest. Her research has been featured in the New York Times and Science Friday.

Dr. Michelle Duennes is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. She's been inside the Great Pyramid of Cheops, has been bitten by a blue-footed booby in the Galápagos, and has studied bumblebee evolution, ecology, and conservation in the mountains of Mexico and Central America, the Sierra Nevada, and northern Alaska. She often engages in science policy and public outreach about the importance of pollinators. In her spare time, she plays roller derby under the pseudonym “Polly Nator.”

Erica Sarro is a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Riverside, who is currently studying bumblebee behavior and social biology in the Woodard Lab. Prior to graduate student life, she mist-netted bats in Belize, tagged flammulated owls in Colorado, and waded through pitch-black streams in the Trinidadian rainforest in search of nocturnal fish. This field season, she is tagging and tracking bumblebee queens in Yosemite National Park.

Day 1
Welcome to Sequoia!
  • We’ll meet up at the Silver City Mountain Resort, tucked away in Sequoia National Park. Take time to settle into our shared mountain chalet or your studio room before joining the full group and expert guides for dinner at the lodge’s restaurant.
  • We’ll enjoy a glass of California wine or a local microbrew with dinner while we learn about the plight of wild pollinators and how researchers are working to save them. Although honeybees kept in managed hives get most of the buzz, we rely on native wild pollinators such as bumblebees to support the flowering plants that are crucial to healthy ecosystems. Bumblebees are highly efficient pollinators and in some ways even more valuable than the non-native honeybees—but they are increasingly endangered.
Day 2
Tracking Wild Pollinators
  • We’ll get an early start, so make sure to have a good breakfast and plenty of coffee at the lodge.
  • We’ll then head out to Mineral King, a stunning glacial valley in Sequoia National Park. In this breathtaking landscape we’ll identify wild bee specimens with our researchers and learn how to track pollinator populations.
  • After a few hours of work in the field, we’ll enjoy a picnic lunch among the wildflowers in this high-altitude valley.
  • From there, we’ll take a leisurely post-lunch hike in Sequoia National Park, or continue identifying specimens with our research team.
  • After a busy day in the field, we’ll settle in for a well-deserved farm-to-table dinner with live local music at The Ol’ Buckaroo Tavern.
Eden, Janine and Jim on Flicker
Day 3
Bumblebees & Bioluminescent Bugs
  • It’s another early start, so make sure you have a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast. This morning, we’ll be heading off to the meadows of Cedar Slope to continue tracking and identifying wild bee specimens with our researchers. Fuzzy pollinators are absolutely vital to our natural ecosystems as well as agriculture; we have bees to thank for one in every three bites of food we eat. Yet sadly, all is not well for our buzzing friends, and populations are on the decline.
  • After a few hours of field work, we’ll enjoy another picnic lunch among the wildflowers.
  • Then we can enjoy a leisurely post-lunch hike, or continue collecting specimens with the researchers.
  • After another busy day in the great outdoors, we’ll make our way back to our chalets to clean up before enjoying a group dinner at the mountain resort.
  • Following dinner, we’ll put on our headlamps and head out into the forest for an after-dark adventure to see the glowing millipedes of Sequoia National Park. Careful not to get too close—these almond-scented glow worms secrete liquid cyanide!
Day 4
  • This morning we'll say farewell to our research team as they head onward to continue their field work. You're welcome to stick around to explore all the wonderful landscapes that Sequoia has to offer on your own. You can make your way to Moro Rock to climb the 400 steps to the peak to take in gorgeous vistas over the forest or pay your respects to General Sherman, the largest known tree (by volume) in the world, or you can wave good-bee and head back to your hives. 
The Fine Print


  • Three nights of lodging in double-accommodation rooms in a spacious shared chalet, or private studio rooms in the Silver City Mountain Resort for couples traveling together. Single travelers should be prepared to share a room with another traveler of the same gender, depending on the composition of the group.
  • Three dinners, a daily picnic lunch, and additional snacks.
  • Trip leadership and expert insight from three bumblebee biologists.
  • A brand-new headlamp for our after-dark forest excursions.
  • Recommended reading materials, packing list, and pre-trip information packet.
  • A great group of fellow Atlas Obscura outdoor enthusiasts, excited to learn more about bumblebee ecology and conservation.


This itinerary is subject to change. We expect to do everything listed in the itinerary, though the order may be rearranged based on weather and other local conditions.


This trip will require some physical activity. Participants should be able to hike between 2 and 5 miles per day, often in unmarked sections of the valley, and sometimes involving bushwhacking. You'll need sturdy hiking boots as well as protective clothing to prevent cuts and scratches to your arms and legs. We will also be spending extended time in the forest after dark with headlamps and flashlights.


You will be in close proximity or contact with insects and arthropods. Your researcher-guides are trained in handling these creatures, and they will instruct you in the proper ways to approach the bees and millipedes that we will be observing and tracking. However, this trip is not recommended if you have a severe allergy to bee venom. It is also important that you not touch the bioluminescent millipedes which secrete cyanide.


We'll be staying at the Silver City Resort in Sequoia National Park. Single travelers will share a 3-bedroom, 1-bath chalet. Single travelers should be prepared to share a room with another traveler of the same gender, depending on the composition of the group. Pairs traveling together will stay in studio rooms, outfitted with queen beds and private bathrooms in the resort's main lodge.


The Silver City Resort is located roughly 2.5 hours from Fresno, California. We'll meet at the resort restaurant at 6 p.m. for dinner on Thursday, June 13, so travelers flying into Fresno Airport should plan to land by 2 p.m. Travelers driving or carpooling should make arrangements to arrive at the Silver City Resort with enough time to settle in before our welcome dinner. Check-in at the resort begins at 3 p.m. If you would like to carpool, we would be happy to help coordinate this with your fellow travelers in advance.

Our trip concludes the morning of Sunday, June 16. Check-out at the resort is at 12 p.m., but you’re welcome to depart Sequoia at your leisure. If you’re flying out of Fresno, we recommend booking a flight that departs the afternoon or evening of the 16th.


A $500 deposit is required to hold your space. This deposit is nonrefundable after three days. The trip will cost $980 (the $500 deposit plus a $480 final payment) and will cover all fixed costs including accommodations, group transport, and meals and activities listed below. The final payment of $480 will be due by April 29, 2019. All reservations will be final after these dates and subject to our cancellation policy. By submitting your deposit, you agree to the Terms & Conditions.

This trip helps support bees and their habitat. Atlas Obscura will be donating a portion of trip proceeds to additional research through our friends at the Woodard Lab. We also strongly recommend purchasing our optional carbon offset supplement.


  • All transportation during the trip. Carpooling with your fellow travelers will be available and can be arranged in advance.
  • If arriving by air, flights to and from Fresno, California, then transport to and from the Silver City Mountain Resort in Mineral King, California.
  • Travel insurance (recommended).
  • Additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings, including one dinner and all alcoholic beverages with the exception of those listed on the itinerary.
  • If applicable, applying for a U.S. visa. 

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